LGBT Case Against Christian Florist Sent Back to Lower Court

by | June 25, 2018

By David G. Savage

The Supreme Court has put off a further decision on whether shop owners who are conservative Christians have a religious freedom right to refuse to provide service or products for a same-sex wedding.

The justices, with no registered dissent, sent back a pending appeal from a florist in Richland, Wash., who was convicted of violating the state's civil rights law for refusing to provide a floral arrangement for a wedding of two men.

The court's one-line order on Monday said Washington state judges should reconsider the case "in light of Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado."

Lawyers for Barronelle Stutzman, the owner of Arlene's Flowers, described her as a 72-year-old grandmother and a "floral design artist." She said she had known Robert Ingersoll as a longtime customer and a friend, but said she told him she could not help with his impending wedding "because of my relationship with Jesus Christ."

Lawyers for the state quietly urged her to comply with the state's civil rights law, but sued her when she refused. A judge ruled the florist had violated the state law and fined her $1,000.

In her appeal, she urged the Supreme Court to rule that she had a free speech right to refuse to provide "artistic expression" to celebrate a same-sex wedding. She also said that requiring her to provide flowers violated her right to the "free exercise of religion."

Both claims were before the justices in the case of a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for two men.

Earlier this month, the court ruled for the baker, but without deciding either of his broad claims. Instead, the justices said baker Jack Phillips had been treated unfairly by members of the state civil rights commission who made comments that reflected a "hostility to religion."

The decision came on a rather broad 7-2 vote, but only because the ruling itself was unusually narrow.

The justices had held the appeal in Arlene's Flowers vs. Washington while they decided the Colorado case.

(c)2018 Los Angeles Times